A Stewardship Ethic

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Highlights

A story of diversification, energy independence, and a stable, low-growth economy.
Key Themes: Towards Carbon Free; Many is Beautiful Agriculture; Controlled Growth
Key Question: What is the cost of environmentally sustainable communities, and are we willing to pay for it with a no/low growth economy?

Energy:

  • Coal is not development
  • Citizens own and control their own energy supplies
  • Energy is moderately priced, based on significant up-front investment in green energy technology

Economy:

  • Diversified local economy
  • Thriving regional communities and family farms

Community:

  • Moderately increasing population throughout East Central Alberta
  • A moderate level of services is locally available (health, social, recreation, retail, banking, restaurants, etc.)
  • Community identity is strong, but changing
  • There is tension in accommodating cultural differences brought to communities by a growing immigrant population

Water and the Environment:

  • Ecological Goods & Services are valued, measured and accounted
  • Environmental regulations are strictly enforced
  • Green technology supports a more sustainable environment

Governance:

  • Shared governance focused around a shared vision of a stewardship ethic
  • Community involvement in decision making

Story (Scenario)

 

Ali Mustafa, 36, was a certified steam engineer back in Pakistan. In Canada, he’s always surprised to discover, they insist on calling him a stationary engineer. No matter. These credentials, along with his familiarity with biomass energy technology, helped him secure his current position of assistant manager of Spenser’s Produce, a small steam generation plant and greenhouse operation on the outskirts of Killam, Alberta. Although his two-year work visa is about to expire, immigration officials have assured him that he will have no difficulty extending it, or achieving, if he wishes, permanent resident status for his wife and two daughters still back in Pakistan.

His first job, in Edmonton in 2032, while he worked on his English and prepared to get his Alberta certification, was as a custodian with the Edmonton Public School Board, where he serviced antiquated steam-generating boilers. It was a good start, he thought, for a new arrival with big hopes and big ambitions for himself and his family.

His first year in Alberta, he rented a small apartment in Sherwood Park, and on the weekends he took to exploring East Central Alberta, growing more fond, with each excursion, of its green space, its wetlands, its relaxed yet vibrant communities, and its carefully-managed development. In a restaurant in the small town of Rosalind, a waitress explained to him that in East Central Alberta, they called it their stewardship ethic, in which community wealth was not solely defined by economic prosperity. It was an ethic, he decided then and there, that he wanted, along with his family, to be part of, in contrast to the crowded chaos he had left behind in Islamabad.

Back in 2012, the price of oil on world markets, spurred by increasing demand, dwindling reserves, political instability in major oil producing countries, and pipeline sabotage, reached $200 a barrel. Promising new oil discoveries ultimately proved disappointing, as North America prepared to drill in ecologically sensitive areas.

At the same time, global warming accelerated. In 2011 and 2012, Canada, Alberta, and most of the Northern Hemisphere experienced the two hottest summers on record. World food production became erratic, as growing seasons lengthened, precipitation patterns changed, and more pesticides and fertilizers were needed to keep yields high. The safety and security of Canada’s food supply became a growing concern.

By 2014, lengthening droughts in East Central Alberta resulted in angry competition for scarce water resources. Large-scale agricultural operations, unable to secure water-use guarantees sufficient to meet their bottom-line requirements, began leaving East Central Alberta.

Out of necessity, local jurisdictions stepped up their collaborative efforts with stakeholder communities, with each other and with the provincial government, in support of stricter environmental controls, more realistic water allocations, concerted conservation measures, and more tightly regulated growth.

In 2015, a panel of world-leading carbon sequestration experts announced that major challenges remained, and that the technology was still many years away from commercial viability.

By 2018, Europe and Asia’s decade-long commitment to energy conservation and renewable alternatives began to pay dividends. World demand for oil levelled off, and the price stabilized at around $90 a barrel. The oil and gas industry continued to fuel the Alberta economy.

It’s 8 p.m. and Ali is at work greeting customers at the door of the new high-end Asian Fusion restaurant, seating them for dinner, and patiently explaining that Asian Fusion simply means, as he understands it, a combination of Asian foods. Actually, he has no idea. The restaurant owners employ him, he supposes, because, at 36, he looks distinguished in a suit and tie. The kind of image, they tell him, that they are trying to cultivate. He admires their ambitions, if not their judgement. He does not expect the restaurant to last. Not in Killam, a modest town, he’s come to understand, with modest tastes and expectations. Already, they’re cutting his hours, not a good sign.

Ali arrives home at midnight and e-mails his wife. He does not tell her, once again, about his second job. He’s not sure why. Perhaps, he tells himself, it’s because she will worry that he is working too hard. Perhaps it’s because he does not want her to know that wages are not so high in East Central Alberta, not, at any rate, for a family man with responsibilities.

In the end, he decides, he does not tell his wife because he does not wish to disappoint her, to throw into doubt his own judgement, to somehow diminish the sacrifices they have all made these past two years. He does not wish to explain that the stewardship ethic he has learned so much to admire, has consequences, especially for a new immigrant who has arrived with nothing, who has come to Canada to prosper, to buy a home and to build a better life for his children and grandchildren. Is this not, he wonders, the North American dream?

In 2018, concerned with its own diminishing conventional oil and gas reserves, increasing competition from renewable energy, and the ever-present threat of a consumer boycott of oil sands products, Alberta began to alter course. The province invested heavily in large-scale solar, wind, geothermal and biomass projects, and provided major incentives for small businesses, farm operations, residential complexes and individual homes to produce their own energy.

East Central Alberta, with Big Oil and Corporate Agribusiness receding from the region, and with few reliable economic options open before it, fully embraced this opportunity.

By 2020, small-scale farm operations began dotting the countryside, producing food for local markets. Alternative farming techniques, relying less and less on chemicals and emphasizing water and energy conservation, became more profitable. Individuals, citizens’ cooperatives, community organizations, and small businesses invested in green-energy technologies, selling their surplus power back to an enhanced power grid.

By 2025, East Central Alberta seemed well on its way to energy and food security. Small-scale Agriculture and energy production, and an increase in tourism, created modest paying jobs. Small communities stabilized, or experienced slight growth, providing basic commercial, retail and social services. More young people and immigrants moved to the region, attracted to an eco-friendly lifestyle and a lower cost of living.

And by 2033, a new community identity had fully emerged, one based on stewardship. Strong environmental regulations were strictly enforced. Wetlands were restored and green space expanded to protect wildlife habitat. Several jurisdictions in the region went so far as to adopt “no growth” resolutions.
Co-operative management and protection of regional watersheds, wetlands, and wildlife habitat provided a model for shared governance, in which community involvement was valued, based on a shared vision for the future of the region.

When Ali first moved to East Central Alberta and started at Spenser’s Produce, Jim Spenser assured him that as the business expanded and prospered, so would Ali along with it. But now, in 2033, approaching his first anniversary with the company, Ali is keenly aware that there is no sign of the promised expansion, nor of Ali’s increased prosperity. Ali decides he must push the issue, to make what he considers to be the obvious case.

He prepares his presentation meticulously. He knows the business better than his boss. And he’s crunched the numbers. First, he points out, they have a guaranteed market for any increase in production. Second, young people are moving to the region, attracted by the alternative lifestyle, so there will be no shortage of workers. And they have almost limitless amounts of cheap biomass materials to fuel their steam plants and heat their greenhouses, all well within acceptable environmental standards.

Jim Spenser is impressed with Ali’s analysis. But he shakes his head and explains that he does not have the energy to jump through all the hoops the environmental fundamentalists who control the approval board will place in front of him. And he is concerned about how the word will get around, and how he will have to explain why he has suddenly become an expansionist. He tells Ali that it’s just not worth it, that he has no idea how judgemental the environmentalists can get. And how most times, he agrees with them. But, he concludes, he remains sympathetic to Ali’s plight.

Ali walks away from his boss’s office in frustration. What will he tell his wife? He can mislead her no longer. With this stewardship ethic, tradeoffs must be made, tradeoffs he only now is beginning to understand. Perhaps it is not a place for them afterall. Perhaps it is only for the un-ambitious, or the already well off.

Jim watches Ali walk away, and feels a bit guilty about blaming environmentalists for his decision not to expand. Thanks to the stewardship ethic, everyone in the region is prospering. Or at least making do, making ends meet, and enjoying a quiet, but rich rural experience. We’re saving something special, Jim reminds himself. As a community, we’re making commitments to live well - but with less. If newcomers are not willing to do the same, then maybe this new-old way of living is not really for them.
 

Detailed Assumptions
Energy:

  • Coal in not developed in East Central Alberta
  • Alberta is energy secure
  • While Alberta still exports its carbon-based fuels, local communities within the region develop their own renewable energy strategies, although these alternatives cost moderately more than conventional sources
  • Alberta maintains some revenues from its sale of oil/gas, but at the same time is investing in renewable energy strategies to keep energy prices moderate

Economy:

  • Small farms produce locally for the region
  • Local markets and alternative farming techniques make smaller farms more profitable
  • Citizens invest in home-based green-energy technology and sell surpluses to the grid
  • More young people are attracted to small-scale Agriculture, as a life-style choice
  • The family farm ethic of stewardship is restored
  • Farmers capitalize on values provided by Ecological Goods & Services
  • Small scale agricultural and renewable energy production create modest paying jobs in the region
  • The region is economically stable, but standard of living is lower

Community:

  • The region develops a strong stewardship ethic
  • Diet is more local, supplemented by imports
  • There is a strong belief that quality of life issues must take precedence over economic growth
  • Wealth is distributed more evenly throughout the community
  • Land is cheaper in East Central Alberta than in the Capital Region, and attracts new immigrants
  • Population gradually increases throughout the region
  • Regional urban centres stabilize, with the accompanying services (retail, restaurants, banking), as well as health and social services
  • Urban sprawl is discouraged
  • Growing communities, however, put strains on local health and social services
  • There is a strong sense of community, with a new community identity developing around the vision of the stewardship ethic
  • New demands are placed on education and reasonable accommodation of cultural difference

Water and the Environment:

  • Water is protected and managed wisely; wetlands are restored
  • Green space is protected and expanded to protect wildlife habitat
  • Ecological Goods & Services are valued, measured and accounted for (natural ecosystems and landscape features are valued and retained)
  • Environmental regulations are strictly enforced
  • Green technology supports a more sustainable environment
  • Aesthetic value of living in a healthy, scenic environment is promoted

Governance:

  • Co-operative management and protection of regional watersheds and wetlands provides a model for shared governance
  • Local governance is valued
  • Community involvement in decision-making
  • Shared governance is successful due to a shared vision surrounding the stewardship ethic

Chart of Assumptions

Planning Factor:  Energy Future (Download chart)
Theme: Energy - Towards Carbon Free

Planning Factor: Economic Sustainability(Download chart)
Theme: Agriculture - Many is Beautiful

Planning Factor: Nature of Community (Download chart)
Theme: Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth

Planning Factor: Water Quality and Quantity (Download chart)
Theme:
Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth

Planning Factor: Environmental Sustainability (Download chart)
Theme:
Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth

Planning Factor: Governance (Download chart)
Theme:
Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth